Ruth C. Fong

Ruth Catherine Fong

2015 American Rhodes Scholar

Personal Profile

I am an aspiring computer science researcher interested in machine learning, its applications to vision and language, and computational neurobiology.

Specifically, I aim to develop biologically-inspired algorithms that learn from data more like how humans do, improve vision and language processing in assistive technologies, and further our understanding of human cognition.

In Fall 2015, I will at the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar pursuing an M. Sc. in Neuroscience.


Harvard University

2011-2015. A.B. in Computer Science, Magna Cum Laude with Highest Honors.

Relevant coursework in machine learning, computer vision, computational linguistics, discrete math, cryptography, differential privacy, algorithms, programming languages, neuroscience, and biology.

Research Projects

“Leveraging Human Brain Activity to Improve Object Classification” with Professors David Cox and Walter Scheirer.*

Spring 2014 - Present

As an undergraduate research assistant for Professor Cox, I have been conducting object detection research in biologically inspired machine vision algorithms.

Abstract: How can computers think and act like humans? In the past few decades, major breakthroughs have been made in solving challenging yet clearly-defined tasks, such as winning a chess game or Jeopardy. Yet, computers still perform poorly on intuitive tasks that humans do subconsciously, such as recognizing different kinds of fruits. Currently, most algorithms attempting these vision tasks differ drastically from how the human brain tackles these problems. My thesis investigates how we can improve machine vision algorithms by designing them to better mimic how humans approach these tasks. Specifically, I am examining how human brain activity from functional magnetic resonating images (fMRI) can be leveraged to improve object classification. Inspired by the idea that humans learn in a graduated manner and generalize their experiences with easy problems to tackle harder ones, I am developing techniques first to learn the difficulty of detecting an object in an image given auxiliary fMRI data and second to modify vision algorithms to incorporate these difficulty measures.

Senior Thesis:

Cox Lab Meeting Presentation:

“Ensuring Privacy for Genomics Data With K Disease Categories” with Louis Li.

Fall 2014

Genome-wide association studies (GWASs) are used to provide aggregate statistics about the influence of single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), which are units of genetic data, on disease outcome. Previous research (Uhler '13) demonstrates a differentially private way to release three kinds of statistics – averaged minor allele frequencies (MAFs), χ-squared statistics, and p-values – for a specified number of SNPs using the Laplace mechanism with the constraint that the disease outcome is binary – typically healthy or sick. We extended some of Uhler’s theoretical results to provide differential privacy for GWAS data with K disease outcomes and experimentally analyzed the utility of our generalized mechanisms. These extensions are significant because they allow for the private release of more forms of GWAS data, particularly that of diseases with more complex disease categories or several levels of severity.

Final Project Paper:

“Human-Animal Look-a-likes: Exploring measures of similar across object categories.”

Fall 2013

For the final project of a graduate-level computer vision course, I investigated methods for matching images of human faces with images of similar-looking animal faces. I generated this research idea with inspiration from a humorous British tabloid article that juxtaposed images of Benedict Cumberbatch with photos of otters that looked uncannily like the famous British actor. How do humans recognize similarities across different kinds of objects? While significant research in the computer vision community has been conducted on facial recognition and object recognition, similarities across object categories have been largely unexplored. I compared how three different similarity metrics – Euclidean distance, Mahalanobis distance, and One-Shot similarity scores – selected similar-looking pairings between human and animal faces when using Histogram of Oriented Gradient descriptors to describe images. I developed a framework for comparing the similarity of two given images using one of these metrics. I designed and ran an online experiment that solicited participants to select the best pairings.

Final Project Paper:

“Word Sense Disambiguation” with Louis Li.

Spring 2013

For the final project of a computational linguistics course, my partner and I analyzed algorithms that infer the meaning of a word from surrounding context words in a sentence. We compared Lesk’s seminal dictionary-based algorithm (Lesk 1986) and Mihalcea’s graph-based sequence data labeling method (Mihalcea 2005). I implemented the Lesk algorithm to use the Oxford dictionary and the WordNet knowledge source.

Final Project Slides:

“Imperial Search: An Analysis of the Impact of British Imperialism in the 20th Century.”

Spring 2013

For the final project of a British history course, I developed an interactive tool to compare the relative influence of two topics and learned the most prominent topics in each decade of the 20th Century British parliament using a Latent Dirichlet Allocation topic model. Interested in quantifying the impact of British imperialism in Parliament after reading a claim (Porter 2004) that the empire had an insignificant effect on Britons at home because issues of imperialism only arose in Parliament 10-15% of the time, I generated this research idea.

*Working towards publication.

Work Experience

Quantitative Software Engineer Intern at D.E. Shaw, Co.

June 2014 - August 2014

Worked on a proprietary software engineering project and a quantitative financial research project.

Software Engineer Intern at Apple, Inc.

May 2013 - August 2013

Implemented HTML5 features for the Mavericks release of Safari and the open-source WebKit project as well as improved developer tools on the Safari WebKit team.

Explorer Intern at Microsoft

May 2012 - August 2012

Worked for the Windows 8 Device Drivers team on a diagnostic tool for Windows 8-style device apps.

Technical Projects

CrimsonCommunity with Annie Ryu, Styliani Pantella, and Victoria Gu

January 2013 - December 2014

Developed an SMS-based service that provides Harvard students with easy access to Harvard’s mental health services.


Health Data Collection & Visualization Project as 2014 Tech in the World Fellow

December 2013 - January 2014

Partnered with Ifakara Health Institute to build centralized web platform that collects vital health statistics from throughout Tanzania and taught seminars at Dar es Salaam Institute of Technology (See for more details).

BagIt with Eric Lu

December 2012 - May 2013

Developed an iOS and mobile app that allows Harvard students to order bagged meals from dining halls.

Leadership, Teaching, and Service Activities

Course Instructor of "Mathematics in the World" for NJ Governor's School in Engineering and Technology

July 2015

Taught an introductory course on discrete math, probability, and their real-world applications to gifted high school juniors in NJ interested in engineering and technology.

Webmaster, Board Member, & Mentor for Harvard Women in CS

Fall 2012 - Spring 2015

Developed the Women in CS’s web presence in its inaugural year as an officially-recognized club (’12-’13). Advise several undergraduate women in CS in academics, industry opportunities, and research (’12-15). Lead a technical interview workshop (’13).

Teaching Fellow for CS121: “Intro. to the Theory of Computation”

September 2014 - December 2014

Teaching Fellow for CS20: “Intro. to Discrete Math

January 2014 - May 2014

Course Assistant for CS50: “Intro. to Comp. Sci. I”

September 2012 - December 2012

Captain & Lead Programmer for TCS Robotics & Programming Teams

September 2007 - May 2011

Started my high school’s FIRST Tech Challenge robotics team (’10) and led it to the World Championships (’11).

Honors and Awards

Rhodes Fellowship


NSF Graduate Research Fellowship (declined)


Fulbright Research Fellowship to Tanzania (declined)


Thomas T. Hoopes Prize (for Senior Thesis)


Derek Bok Certificate of Distinction


Teaching distinction awarded based on Teaching Fellow course evaluations for CS121, Fall 2014.

Tech in the World Fellowship


Travelling fellowship awarded to 4 Harvard undergrads to apply their technical skills to development issues.

Apple iOS Scholarship


$10,000 tuition scholarship awarded to 5 students from a pool of 500+ applicants.

Square Code Camp Winner


Part of the inaugural winning “Code Camp” of 15 collegiate women selected from a pool of 300+ applicants.

1st in American Computer Science League

2009 & 2010


  • Python
  • Java
  • C
  • C#
  • C++
  • OCaml
  • Objective-C
  • UNIX
  • Perl
  • Javascript
  • MySQL